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Oregon lawmakers approve COVID-19, fire relief in special session

Oregon lawmakers approved $800 million in COVID-19 aid and wildfire relief for communities decimated by the fire during a special session held Monday.

Senate Bill 5731 included $600 million to allow the state to continue to fund critical pandemic-related programs into the first few months of 2021 and to provide support for Oregonians impacted by wildfires. It also includes $150 million for the Landlord Compensation Fund and $50 million in rental assistance, as defined in House Bill 4401.

“State legislators showed up and did their jobs to help Oregonians who were facing tremendous risk in the month ahead, because of some critical year-end deadlines,” Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said. “It was absolutely essential to extend the eviction moratorium and provide more funding to stabilize the rental market.”

"Despite our success today, I am frustrated that we could not do more," said Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

Melissa Toledo

Kotek added that she is “frustrated that we couldn’t do more, including an extension of foreclosure protections that expire next week. We need to do all we can to avoid the mistakes of the Great Recession and keep people housed. This means recognizing that income inequality has been magnified by the pandemic, especially for communities of color and low-income workers.”

Moody’s Investors Service analysts said in a September report that state revenues don’t appear to be as diminished as anticipated, because higher earners, who could work from home, have tended to retain their jobs during the pandemic. The state have also benefited from the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision, which increased the revenues states receive from online sales tax and there has been a surge in online sales this year, Moody’s said.

The pandemic-induced downturn has been particularly hard on low income workers, however, Moody’s said.

House Bill 4401, approved by lawmakers, extends an eviction moratorium for renters through June 30, 2021. It establishes a $150 million fund to cover overdue rent payments to help renters who can show they are behind due to COVID-19-related hardship, and to avert economic harm to landlords.

They also approved House Bill 4402 providing temporary liability protection to schools from COVID-19 lawsuits and Senate Bill 1801, which allows restaurants and bars to sell mixed drinks to go.

The Legislature had been pushing Gov. Kate Brown to call for a special session to provide relief to residents and communities struggling under the weight of the pandemic and reeling after 2,027 fires consumed 1.2 million acres across the state this fall.

“I called this special session, because of the critical need to get resources into the hands of Oregonians who have been making incredible sacrifices to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Brown said.

After the second special session in October, Brown said the state would likely wait to see if any aid was coming from Congress before convening a third special session. She called for one Dec. 15 as Congress worked toward passage of a relief bill that was signed by President Trump last night.

State and local governments received no direct relief in the just-passed $900 billion federal relief bill, which did extend the deadline for states to spend money they received under the CARES Act earlier this year.

“I would like to thank legislative leadership, and every member of the Legislature for coming together in a bipartisan way to deliver on a relief package,” Brown said.

The Legislature had been pushing Gov. Kate Brown to call a special session to provide COVID-19 and wildfire relief.

Oregon governor's office

The governor said she is pleased that lawmakers approved $800 million be added to the emergency fund to deal with the ongoing needs of the pandemic and the wildfire response, because “these funds are critical to protect Oregon families and small business.”

Lawmakers also approved COVID-19-related policy bills that will provide relief for tenants and landlords, extend the eviction moratorium and create avenues to support restaurants and bars, Brown said.

“These policy changes and budget investments, coupled with the recently announced agreement on a federal economic package, will bring much-needed relief to Oregonians and help beat the COVID-19 virus,” Brown said. “These are important steps, but more resources will be needed for Oregon families and businesses when Congress returns to Washington.”